You’re Not Stupid, You Just Learn Differently

A woman holding a book in a library

I never cooked anything beyond instant noodles till I was about 30 years old. I did try at a younger age, but I managed to mix up cooking oil and lemon cordial. Don’t ask me how. All I remember was the confusion I got when the ‘oil’ turned sticky.

Later on in life, I gave cooking another shot, opting for fried rice this time. Again, I managed to screw that up by getting everything to stick to the pan. A non-stick pan.

Since then, I gave the kitchen a wide berth, thinking that cooking was reserved only for the select few who’d been blessed with the magic knowledge of spice and fire. The people who could effortlessly turn a slab of chicken meat into cordon bleu.

Then the pandemic happened.

COVID, a blessing in disguise

I almost went down the baking rabbit hole—just like everybody else seemed to during quarantine—but then I came across cooking yet again. I figured I’d get more mileage out of daily dishes than desserts so it was back to the stove. But knowing my abilities, I restricted myself to just cooking eggs.

It was just an experiment, really.

But you know what? My scrambled eggs turned out all right. So I tried the sunny side up. Then the omelette. Then the French omelette. Chinese steamed egg.

As my confidence grew, I started adding other ingredients, like spring onions, tomatoes, and cheese.

I went out and bought a cast iron pan. Then stainless steel. I still honed my skills with the humble egg until I got used to the pans.

Soon, I could estimate how hot the pan was, and I was getting good at preventing food from sticking, so I graduated to meat and veggies. I even started blending my own belacan mix.

Today, I still can’t cook very well, but I can confidently feed myself with the pantry staples.

Why am I telling you this long-winded story? Because I’ve learned that it’s not the subject that challenges you sometimes. It’s the way you learn. And no matter what you pursue, whether or not you have a talent for it, you’ll need to find a path that sings to you.

So don’t be so quick to judge yourself, or a certain vocation.

Eggs taught me everything I know about cooking

Come to think of it, eggs really can teach you a lot about cooking. They teach you about heat control, how to use a lid for steaming, how to scoop and flip, how different pan materials handle heat differently, and how to salt your food.

Similarly, what I know about writing, I’ve learned through the informal act of blogging. Sure, there’s my day job which also involves writing, but I only consider it real writing if it’s something I create without receiving a brief.

I’ve chosen to practise my art through blogging because it’s the medium that best unleashes my true voice. And it will be where I’ll continue to hone my craft as long as I write.

You need to find your own way

I’ll give you another example of me finding my learning path.

Besides cooking, swimming has also been a skill that had escaped me for most of my life. I only learned how to swim properly, again, during the pandemic.

As a kid, my parents always advised me to learn the breaststroke, which I just couldn’t get. And my well-meaning friends always had a drill of some sort whenever they learned I couldn’t swim—hold the edge of the pool and practise kicking, or learn to float on your back.

But you know how I finally got the skill to stick? By focusing on my breathing. So I’d just bob across the water, then turn my head to breathe as if I was swimming freestyle.

Turns out, freestyle feels so much more natural to me, and it took me just a couple of days to learn. That’s after a lifetime of struggling with the breaststroke.

Want more examples?

Language: When I was learning to read Chinese, I made literal connections to the characters for easier memorisation. For instance, 刚 means ‘just’. To me, the character looks like a board and a knife. So I imagine the knife having just scratched the ‘X’ on the board, and that’s how I remember the word (it probably makes more sense to me than to you, lol).

Directions: Tell me to turn left at the gas station and then take a right at the lake and I’ll probably drive all the way from Malaysia to Singapore and still not find my destination. I realised pretty early on that the only way I remember directions is by travelling there multiple times. Waze has done away with this, but back then, if I needed to be somewhere new, I used to drive back and forth just to get my directions down pat.

Drawing: I can’t draw for nuts, but I can draw shapes. And being good with 3D shapes allows me to assemble a dog’s body, a car, or an arm. So while I still can’t draw a helmet from imagination, knowing how to draw a sphere helps a lot in that regard.

Always be aware of self

I guess the more important question here is to always ask yourself: “Why do I want to learn this?”

Because the answer will come in particularly handy when you find yourself browsing Instagram instead of learning that new language, or painting a figurine instead of writing.

Also, should you opt for one activity over the other, ask yourself if perhaps what you think you ‘should’ do is just an optional ‘nice-to-have’. Maybe it’s your other chosen activities—like the aforementioned figurine painting—that are your true calling instead.

And knowing that difference is a valuable lesson on its own.

I’m gonna be honest here: I want your e-mail address. This is so that I can keep sending you more (exclusive) content in case this site ever goes down. Plus, you get a free guide on how to grow your blog too.

58 thoughts on “You’re Not Stupid, You Just Learn Differently

  1. I agree that asking yourself why you want to learn something is key. I would love to learn a bunch of different languages; I just think that would be amazing. Unfortunately, trying to learn ten new languages at once with everything else on my plate hasn’t been feasible lately lol! So I asked myself what I really needed to learn for my goals and if I actually needed to know a lot of each language on my list. Could I learn just a handful of Tagalog for the next Pinoy picnic our family attends or a little Hmong so that I can make a bit of small talk with the awesome older farmers in town? That made my plans much more manageable.


  2. cool. I went to a culinary class and wasn’t encouraged to continue. I’m too slow. I had a partner who was experienced, so I passed.

    I know how to make basic dishes for myself. Due to memory problems, I’m not allowed to use the oven or stove, but I learned how to cook in a microwave that come out better than the fancy recipes. You can make juicy chicken with it. In the group home, they serve mostly American food. I’m having to cut my portions way down.


    • Hey, that’s pretty cool that you found a way to cook using the microwave and make some tasty meals! It’s always important to take care of yourself and it sounds like you’re doing just that by cutting down your portions. Cooking can definitely be a challenge, but it’s awesome that you’ve found what works for you. Keep it up!


  3. For me, Youtube has been the great learning tool for most things, including food. Everything from making bread to making ice-cream, I’ve found Youtube revolutionary. I think it’s because I’m a visual learner.


    • Lol yeah, I gotta say, the bulk of things I’ve learned in recent decades were gotten from YouTube. Though to be fair, I’ve gotten more success from cookbooks than internet recipes. Maybe there’s quality control behind it.


  4. I share your feelings on cooking, but have come to realize that since I love eating, I can come to love and find joy in experimenting with things that while they may not be conventional or just are simple… taste good. Cooking really is just a vehicle to eating after all, or it is in its simplest form, which is all I can handle anyway… I liked this post a lot, very peaceful and honest. You made me feel better about my own struggles cooking.


    • So glad that the post made you feel better about your cooking! Completely agree that experimenting with simple or unconventional ingredients can lead to some interesting meals.

      At the end of the day, cooking is really just about creating something tasty to eat and nourishing ourselves and our loved ones. It’s okay if we’re not all master chefs, and it’s important to find joy in the process of cooking. Love your thoughts!


  5. Wow, in my opinion, jumping from being a non-cook to cooking eggs is like a beginner paint-by-numbers person painting the Sistine Chapel! Eggs are HARD! Well done. I stink at eggs. And your mnemonic device for remembering “just” in Chinese makes perfect sense to me. I couldn’t function without mnemonics.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have so many more examples with Chinese, and I’m interested to learn how other Chinese people do it as well, because the symbols mean different things to different people. Another example, 这 means ‘this’. And for me, it looks like a map saying ‘x marks the spot’. Which is how I relate it with the word, lol! What mnemonics do you use in daily life?

      Liked by 2 people

      • I knew that if you asked me that I wouldn’t be able to think of any (of course). There is one that pops to mind, though. We have 3 sizes (and colors) of reusable produce bags we take to the store with us: Blue is Big, Green is In Between (leaving Yellow as the small ones). I was just teaching my students yesterday that when I was a kid, I remembered the spelling of “people” by saying (in my head as I was spelling it): pee-o-pal. Oh, and the way to remember to spell dessert with 2 S’s instead of one is that with dessert, you always want more. Oh, and that to remember the correct spelling of the person who runs the school, it’s princiPAL, not princiPLE, because she/he is your PAL. Clearly I use a lot in my teaching, but I swear I use lots in my adult life as well! I know I’ll think of, like, five more in later today!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Lovely piece on the baby steps it takes to master just about anything. It’s so easy to be hard on yourself when you jump into the middle and expect perfection. Impatience is my downfall. (There’s nothing wrong with the oven, it’s me, the operator who didn’t read the manual) Anyway, thanks for laying out the steps to mastery. It’s the truth, and so rewarding to master each baby step, and soon enough, before you realize it, you’ve reached cruising altitude, are admired and applauded for your crazy fine skills.
    Well done Stu. Olympic swimmer and fine chef.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha, I wish I was a fine chef and swimmer. But I will accept having decent skills in both. Sometimes impatience can also be a plus point. Because it gets you to find a more efficient way. And that’s always good. How’s that for being positive :P


  7. Hey Stuart! I can cook the South Indian Idli, provided the batter comes in a packet. I can’t make the batter from scratch. Baby steps for me. Also, I can totally do the breaststroke but never could manage freestyle. Yup, I found the breathing scary. I love your chatty, conversational blogs:) I don’t know if you remember, but you left a comment on my blog about two years ago when I had written about The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’m happy I finally finished the 12-week program:)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so honoured that you’d bring up a comment from two years ago, and that you’d remember. Would love to hear how that programme went. But yeah, I can see how the breathing in freestyle could be more challenging, since you need to have half your face in the water while doing so. Here’s to cooking the idli from scratch one day!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This was a delightful and inspiring read. Learning anything is a process, whether slow or quick doesn’t matter. Learning can be done at any age. Wonderful post 👍

    Liked by 2 people

  9. For Christmas this last year I asked for a cook book so I could learn and have been getting a bit more decent. I still do not enjoy cooking as much (what I learned about self) but at least I can make a decent dish from time to time!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I think life is all about overcoming all the limiting beliefs we had instilled into us by the generic teaching in our school/formative years. One systems fits all. Except it doesn’t. I’m glad you learned to swim. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I agree, coming at something from a completely different angle if the traditional way of learning something isn’t working works well for me as well. It’s also a more gentle way to ease into a new skill. Excellent food for thought and a reminder to figure out what works best for us individually..

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I love your analogies here. As for cooking I rarely do it since my wife takes the helm there. But when I do cook, I free form it and do A-OK. Most dishes are tasty but I definitely trust my intuition in seasoning terms as I learned from watching my mom cook well for so many years by trusting her gut. She had many cookbooks but ultimately learned and pretty much mastered various dishes through her heart.

    Awesome message here Stuart.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, cookbooks have never helped me too much. I think it’s because I learn better by doing. But they do act as a great base for me, then the rest I learn through mistakes. It’s awesome that you can cook decent dishes even though you haven’t done so a lot!


  13. I believe that learning is more about motivation than ability. When you’re motivated, you can learn just about anything. Add in necessity and you have the magic formula!

    Like you with directions, I learn by doing. You can show me something a hundred times, but until I sit down and figure out how to do it myself, it won’t sink in.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lol yeah. I’m pretty terrible with listening, or even watching someone do things. I just have to do it on my own. Which is why for example, when I play video games, I can’t sit through the tutorials. I have to make my own mistakes, lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great post thanks for sharing your experiences with learning new things. I’m the same too. I need to be learning something all the time. I have a number of skills that I practice to master – although mastery is never achieved – as we are continual learners.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Can’t lie, it actually feels better to have a struggle. I can’t really take it if there is nothing in life to do. So having something to want to master is a blessing. Thanks for highlighting something that I should be grateful.


  15. Cheers to you, Stuart, for hanging in there and figuring it out – the cooking business, I mean. This was too funny: …”cooking was reserved only for the select few who’d been blessed with the magic knowledge of spice and fire.” Do you feel you now possess the magic…of spice and fire? 😊😊😊

    Liked by 2 people

  16. For what it’s worth, I’ve been cooking since I was about 12 years old. My mother made perfect scrambled eggs, the only way I really liked them. My scrambled eggs never turned out right, and after reading a Quora response, I found I was using the wrong tool. I was using a whisk which added too much air. Remembering my mother scrambling eggs, she used a fork. I use a fork now, and my eggs are fine. Old dogs like me CAN learn new tricks.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Being Asian, I’m glad I have another set of tools that I can use to beat the eggs as well as cook it on various pans. Chopsticks! They work well for almost everything. Even eating once I’m done cooking, LOL. Thanks for sharing!


  17. Knowing our learning style and what motivates us to learn is so important, Stuart. I know of numerous people, here in the UK, who were damaged by draconian teaching methods. which deadened their desire to learn. I think your question of ‘why do we want to learn this?’ is so important, especially in an age where time can be stolen by many pursuits.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If we go even further back, there was a time where left-handers were considered wrong. So I wonder how much more we are neglecting, even in this modern day. But yeah, as long as we always have a purpose, then we can’t go wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I do know that I learn differently. There is no other way, since when you’re in my position, you have to learn differently because conventional methods are not going to work for you.

    But do you know what is the saddest fact is, Stuart? that when it comes to learning, most of the world functions like a factory. Put a student on one end who knows nothing, and they come out like finished products on the other end, no different from others.

    In any case, I decided in my teenage years that the day I stopped learning new things will be the day I start to die slowly. I know it is pretty dramatic, but I still think that way. Guess this was one of those things about which my teenage-self was right.

    I would like to write more about this topic, but I have to leave to contemplate how bad timings of my calls have cost me multiple opportunities over the years.

    Liked by 2 people

    • What do you mean bad timings of your calls? I’m actually pretty curious to know. But yeah, the educational system is pretty factory-like and it sometimes feels like we are part of a production line. I also understand how learning might be a totally different thing for you, which is why I always appreciate your enlightening stories. Anyway, do keep sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I mean that when I call someone in the morning, they are too busy. I call someone in the day, and they are at work. I call at the evening, and they do not pick up my call. This is of course, not related with personal life, instead it is related with some work related opportunities.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. I think it’s so important to recognize that even if “all the stars are aligned” (ie all the who/what/why etc to learn), there will still be moments you just don’t want to do anything! When that happens, I believe it’s ok to just chill for a bit. And more importantly, not beat our eggs, I mean ourselves about it haha…thanks again Stu for this useful and encouraging post!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Lol yeah. I actually think no matter what you choose to do (to push on despite not feeling it, or to listen to your mind for once), it’s still the right choice. It makes up the sum of our lives, and there are no wrong decisions in life. Thanks as always for stopping by, Kelvin!

      Liked by 1 person

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